Within the evidence, the term ‘father’ is almost always used to include biological fathers, father-figures, step-fathers, or a significant male carer or role model. It is difficult to isolate the effect of father engagement from other types of parental engagement, and the evidence suggests that engagement of a parent/carer is more significant than gender or family structure. Therefore engagement of fathers may be critical in the absence of any other parent/carer in the family.
The presence and engagement of fathers is positively associated with children’s intellectual development, social competence, and emotional well-being (Clark 2009; Geddes 2008). A lack of recognition of their significance and of effort to include them in their children’s education, both at school and at home, can have negative implications for children’s learning, mental, and emotional well-being (Clark 2009; Tan and Goldberg 2009; Geddes 2008). However, there is little equivalent evidence for the involvement of mothers and it is hard to isolate the impact of fathers’ involvement from parental involvement more generally.
Fathers reported the following as barriers to involvement in parenting support services and parental/family engagement in learning programmes: work commitments; a lack of awareness of services offered; a lack of organisational support; and concerns over the content of the services (Passey 2012; Goodall and Vorhausl 2011;Bayley et al 2009). Fathers are less likely to get involved with their children’s education than mothers, with one Ipsos MORI family learning survey revealing 68% of mothers read with children compared to 54% of fathers (Grant 2009).
When looking at the influence of father involvement on child outcomes it is often difficult to disentangle father involvement from the effects of social class and family structure, as well as access to resources and the general socio-economic context that shape children’s well-being (Clark 2009). For instance, the findings from an England-based study of the REAL (Raising Early Achievement in Literacy) family literacy project suggest that fathers who were indicated as having little or no involvement with their children’s literacy were more likely to be on a low income than fathers who were reported to engage in literacy activities with their children (Morgan et al 2009).
Fathers’ engagement in children’s learning may be less visible than mothers’ (Morgan et al 2009). Morgan et al found that while fathers were reportedly highly involved with recognising children’s literacy achievements and engaging in informal reading and writing activities with them at home, they were much less likely to be the providers of literacy opportunities (providing supplies, access, and space to engage in literacy) (2009).
Fathers need to be involved in their children’s learning and development from the beginning (Potter et al 2012). Fathers’ involvement in the early years correlates with the later academic achievement of their children. Fathers’ involvement in their children’s early schooling, particularly their more direct and interpersonal involvement, was shown to increase children’s enjoyment of school and reduce their school-related anxiety (McBride et al 2009; Tan and Goldberg 2009).
The motivation for fathers’ later school involvement affects whether or not the engagement impacts on children’s achievement positively or negatively (McBride 2009; Tan and Goldberg 2009). When fathers play an ‘additive’ role in their children’s later education – becoming involved because their children are perceived to be struggling academically by either the school or family – children’s performance and attainment could actually suffer.